By Stacy Kess
It’s more than a love of books for Mary Jane Santos that makes her job as Delaware County District Library director fulfilling; it’s a love of sharing books and knowledge.
“As much as I get asked what my favorite book is or what I should read, I get reading recommendations from our customers,” she said. “I do love to read and I do love books, but more than that I love to help people love books.”
That engagement with the community and a responsiveness to the community’s needs with programming and services isn’t just part of her job, but why Santos was named the 2014 Librarian of the Year by the Ohio Library Council.
Santos, who will celebrate her 30th anniversary working for DCDL on Sept. 1, said her job is about her staff and the community. Her staff is passionate about DCDL and the community is stronger with a strong library, she said.
It’s been her job to embed the library and the librarians with whom she works in the community since 2006 when Santos became director.
“The staff I work with makes my job a dream,” she said. “The make this library and important part – a critical part – of this community.”
Santos didn’t start out with intentions of becoming a librarian. She graduated Bowling Green State University in 1972 with a degree in education. She had worked at the university’s library during college, and she knew she had a love for libraries, but Santos was ready to become an educator.
She worked in northern Ohio as a teacher until her husband took a job in Delaware in 1973. Santos began volunteering at Delaware’s library in the late 1970s; in 1984, that turned into a job at the circulation desk.
As she found herself more and more passionate about the library and Delaware, Santos heeded the advice from the director of the library and headed back to school. She graduated in 1992 with a master’s degree in library sciences from Kent State.
When Santos took the position of director eight years ago, the library system was changing. Growth in the southern part of the county created a demand for a new library to serve the new population. That required money – and the library was in the midst of trying to pass the bond issue to get the new library built.
The bond issue passed and soon the Orange Branch off of U.S. 23 in Orange Township opened to the public. Now, it is a busy library with children’s programming sometimes drawing 200 to 300 participants, she said.
With the “proof in the pudding” that the library system is strong, sustainable and an integral part of the community, Santos worked to add positions such as a teen specialist librarian and expand offerings around the county. Just last year, DCDL opened a library extension at Columbus State Community College’s Delaware Campus.
Santos also continues to write a column for The Gazette she started in 1988. She said it helps her inform the public about happenings at the library but also creates a platform to answer some of the “fun” questions she and the librarians hear when customers ask for help with research.
“We want to take barriers away and make it simple to use your library,” she said. “It’s your library and we want to share it.”
As Santos talks about the library, she said she always focuses on the staff, the community and the programming – not her own job or what she’s done. She credits the library’s board with support for ideas and expansion. She credits her mentors with showing her the best way to make a library a part of the community.
“It’s like talking about my family,” she said. “It’s like talking about my kids. I love to brag about the library.”
Reporter Stacy Kess can be reached at 614-373-4166 or on Twitter @StacyMKess.